It could have turned out to be oh so different! Dad first came over from Dublin in search of work in 1962 and - being a young sports-mad lad keen to see a game - he tried Fulham, Chelsea and QPR before finally venturing to Griffin Park.
Thankfully none of the above quite matched his expectations as he looked for the London equivalent of his native Shelbourne Rovers. Brentford was small and friendly, he felt at home straight away and so started an obsession that continues to this day.
My first game was at home, I think against York City in September 1968. Mum wasn’t too keen on me attending a game, but Dad must have convinced her that she was being overprotective and I was safe in his care. We took the bus from Gunnersbury Station to Brentford Half Acre and I vaguely remember Dad bought me a scarf on the way into the ground which I proudly wrapped around me as I was passed over the turnstiles on Braemar Road.
The Hive was the venue for the habitual pre-match pint before we stood in the Paddock pretty much on the spot where our family season tickets have been for the past few years. Being knee-high I couldn’t see much of the game but the hairs on the back of my neck told me that this was special, and that was it, I had fallen in love!
Peter Gelson was my first football hero. To me he was a colossus at the back and appeared to never lose a tackle or header; I spent hours by myself with a ball trying to emulate his heading prowess. I met him on the terrace before a game a few years ago and thanked him for being responsible for my almost thirty years playing at centre half, his response? “There is a lot I will take responsibility for here over the years, but that’s simply not my fault.”
Dad ran various pubs in Chiswick and we didn’t see much of him during the week as he would leave for work early in the morning and get back well after my designated bedtime. It is only looking back that I realise just how special Saturdays were; it was his one day off and for at least the next five years we travelled home and away following the bees.
The fixture list was pinned in my room close to a map of England that I used frequently to find such faraway places as Workington, Lincoln, Rochdale and Chesterfield. Sometimes we travelled by supporter’s club coach, sometimes by train, but I invariably ended up outside a northern working men’s club with an orange juice and a packet of salt & vinegar crisps while dad sampled the local ales with his mates; Mum was right to be concerned.
1971/72 was the next really memorable season for me. Up to this point, being a Brentford fan had been enough, success was something that I could but dream of, we were the underdogs, the little loveable club for whom survival constituted success, but this season changed everything! Peter Gelson was still in the side, but alongside him we now had John O’Mara, Jackie Graham, John Docherty and towards the end of the season Stewart Houston. The little club that had only just survived a hostile takeover by that lot from Shepherds Bush a few years before was now pushing for promotion.
This season also resulted in one of the many stories that my mum never heard of. An away defeat at Crewe put our promotion push on hold. Six-foot-three John O’Mara had missed an opportunity that my five-foot-nine dad felt he could have scored, and as we stood on opposite platforms of Crewe station my dad saw the opportunity to tell him. What Dad clearly wasn’t expecting was for O’Mara to leave his teammates and run the length of the platform to cross a bridge in pursuit of the dissenter on platform two. Dad took a moment to assess the situation before moving faster than I had ever seen him move as he hid in the toilet until the enraged O’Mara gave up the hunt.
Over the years my younger brother joined us on matchdays and both being taller than dad we now stood behind him on New Road. Dad was on one of his many phases of giving up smoking and had convinced himself that a ‘few’ fat cigars weekly would “do him no harm,” and so my brother and I spent at least two seasons watching the game through a Cuban mist!
Games that never were include the Freight Rover Trophy final in 1985. With tickets in hand we travelled on our annual holiday to the Isle of Wight and despite offering the guy at the ferry port every penny that we had, we could not get on an earlier ferry home. And I can’t believe my brother and I missed promotion at Peterborough in 1992 as we were on tour with Old Meadonians in Galway. We did however drink the hotel dry of every bottle of champagne they possessed!
The Martin Allen years saw us move to season tickets in the ‘new stand’. I will never forget that play-off semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday. We were never really in the tie, but I don’t think I have ever been prouder of my club, our support and the wonder that is Griffin Park.
My two boys both made their debuts in prams before they could walk (friendlies vs Hampton away) and both are now completely lost with the Brentford bug. My boys, my brother and his two boys all now have season tickets in the Paddock, just feet away from where I ‘heard’ my first game over 50 years ago.
And so, to this season. The last few years have been the stuff that dreams are made of since Matthew Benham stepped in with his vision for Brentford. I started this season more excited than I can remember and while excited by the prospect of moving to the new ground, I can’t even think about that last home game at Griffin Park. One thing I know for sure, Dad will be there with us! You Bees!
Tony's story was first published in this season's matchday programme against Luton Town on 30 November 2019. To get your Brentford Story online, email Programme Editor Chris Deacon on [email protected] and we'll get back to you.
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